- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York’s newspapers:

The Middletown Times Herald-Record on a deal between New York City and its Hudson Valley suburbs to protect farmland and open spaces from developers.

July 20

All those farm stands in New York City and the increasing desire to get fresh, local produce in such a large market might be the key to solving a persistent problem in the Hudson Valley - the decrease in farms and open space.

The city is both the problem and solution in this case. It is the problem because those who move to the suburbs and beyond drive up the cost of housing and land, making any substantial acreage a temptation for a developer or speculator. Farmers who struggle with all of the challenges that come with their profession can find a lucrative offer very tempting, especially in a year such as this when near-drought conditions add to the burden.

But Manhattan Democrat Daniel R. Garodnick, a member of the New York City Council, sees a way to connect the needs of his constituents with the livelihood of those where the supply begins. He has “proposed spending $50 million for a conservation easement program that would pay farmers the development value of their land and impose a deed restriction to permanently protect their land from development,” as The New York Times reported last month.

Council members are working with the Scenic Hudson Land Trust on this proposal. As Steve Rosenberg, executive director of Scenic Hudson, said,

“If we want all New Yorkers to have access to fresh, local food, then we must save the nearby farms that serve the city’s neediest neighborhoods now, before they are lost to development. . This modest, but visionary, strategic investment will make the city a national model of how to create a more equitable and secure regional food system.”

It is an interesting idea in many ways but especially because while some legislators have expressed support, it’s really more of an arrangement between the city and its immediate neighbors to the north, two groups that have not always agreed.

Nowhere is that more visible than in the watershed surrounding the reservoirs that collect water and send it to New York City. Those who live around those reservoirs, many of them farmers, have long chafed under the restrictions designed to make sure that nothing runs off the land and into the water. The city always likes to say that we in the watershed are in this together with them, but it certainly does not feel that way. So the idea that the city would voluntarily contribute to something that is good for this region, even if it is good for the city at the same time, is refreshing.

There are plenty of numbers to prove this is a good idea. Although most of the farms that regularly go out of business are small, the acreage adds up and much of it has either been bought for development or is a target.

The average age of New York farmers is rising, and with fewer young people interested in the profession, that means more farm land is likely to go on the market.

So it is easy to understand why somebody from Manhattan can say, “The risk to farmland is a risk to healthy food for New York City residents,” as Garodnick did.




The Plattsburgh Press-Republican on the need for the state to do whatever it takes to reduce tensions at the Clinton Correctional Facility.

July 27

The escape of two killers from Clinton Correctional Facility is more than a year in the past, and the State Inspector General’s report was issued in early June, with a number of its recommended changes already in place.

But all is not peaceful at the Dannemora prison.

That was frighteningly evident on July 14 when inmates in the recreation yard turned on correction officers who had just quelled a fight.

The potential for an eruption is something the prison staff lives with every day. It has happened before and will happen again.

We all have heard, by now, of the big fight in the yard about a week before the escape of Richard Matt and David Sweat and how that was not followed by a lockdown search that could have foiled their flight to freedom.

Since then, numerous changes have altered the atmosphere at the prison. Inmates have lost some of the privileges they used to have. Correction officers and gate staff are conducting more frequent and thorough searches.

But the escape and subsequent disciplinary action, added to a desire by some officers to get away from the whole situation, led to the retirement of a number of experienced officers.

“There are so many new COs that just don’t have the experience, and most of them work evenings,” a source inside the prison says. “I fear for them. They are all great kids trying to do a good job.”

But this officer feels less safe because of their inexperience.

The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision admitted the July 14 disturbance involved prisoners menacing officers; one staff member was hurt.

Sources tell us it was a scary situation, with inmates surrounding the officers in the yard, refusing to follow orders and chanting “kill the cops” and “black lives matter.” Shots and tear gas were used to get the uprising under control.

“Bottom line is you have all these young disrespectful punks who have committed serious violent crimes being told we can’t touch them or talk mean to them,” one source said. “They are walking all over the very authority that is supposed to be keeping us safe from them.”

NYSCOPBA confirmed that a number of employees with one year or less on the job work at Clinton, with one official saying they comported themselves well during the July 14 incident.

Even after a weeklong lockdown and cell search, the unrest was not over. Another incident took place last Sunday evening, with state investigators still at the Dannemora prison looking into the first fight.

DOCCS wouldn’t reveal much information, but a resident who lives near the prison said she “heard a lot of hooting and hollering, really loud,” followed by gunshots, more yelling, more gunshots and then quiet.

A prison, by its nature, is a potential powder keg. Add in prisoners with violent backgrounds who are bristling at crackdowns, inexperienced officers handling volatile situations and the possible influence of national anxiety over policing action with racial links, and the match is ready to light at any time.

The state needs to do whatever it takes - more training, mentoring, shift changes, new yard rules - to diffuse the situation.




The Poughkeepsie Journal on some U.S. senators’ pushing for another vote on a measure that would allow experienced military prosecutors to move alleged sexual assault crimes to trial.

July 20

The military’s job is to serve and protect the nation from harm. But what happens when serious crimes like sexual assault permeate the ranks?

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., along with a supporting cast of senators including Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, are rightly pushing for another vote on the Military Justice Improvement Act, a measure that would grant experienced military prosecutors - not military commanders - the authority to move these alleged crimes to trial.

Too often, allegations of sexual assault are never dealt with appropriately. Too often, those who go through the proper channels to report these crimes can be subjected to unwarranted retaliation. The U.S. military - the strongest, most skilled and diverse in the world - has developed a culture of silence when it comes to addressing these issues, and the time for reform is well overdue.

The bill, first introduced in 2013 by Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Armed Services personnel subcommittee, won the support of more than 50 senators, but has since failed twice to exceed the Senate floor’s 60-vote filibuster requirement - an intolerable disservice to the victims of sexual assault.

Further muddling matters is the Department of Defense’s apparent ploy to mislead Congress regarding the facts involving 93 sexual assault cases within the military - an assertion brought to the table by Gillibrand and several other senators, and covered in an in-depth report by the Associated Press.

“Our military justice system is broken and it’s failing our military service members,” Gillibrand said in a recent conference call with media members throughout New York state.

The numbers are telling. Twenty-thousand military members were assaulted last year, according to Gillibrand. Of those servicemen and women, a mere 6,000 reported the crime. Why such a small minority, you might ask? Well, as documented in a recent Department of Defense survey, three out of four service members didn’t exude enough trust in the system to report the assault.

Even more alarming, one in seven survivors were actually assaulted by a peer in their chain of command.

Though the Pentagon, Congress and President Barack Obama have made some positive strides, including establishing a victim-advocacy program and the passage of an act ending the statute of limitations for sexual assault cases, it’s not nearly enough to eradicate this longstanding quandary.

Victims of sexual assault - especially our brave men and women who don military garb - deserve the utmost respect, candor and consideration when reporting these crimes. It’s simply unfair, and cruel, for them to be subjected to ridicule, threats and disenfranchisement for speaking up for themselves.




The Utica Observer-Dispatch opposing a proposed regulation to federal education law that would force states to punish school districts where too many students opt out of taking standardized tests.

July 22

State Sen. Joseph Griffo believes that a proposed regulation to federal education law is disconcerting and has written U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. to tell him so.

You should, too. The proposal insults the public by undermining taxpayers’ basic rights and it contradicts the law’s intent.

The proposed regulation would require states to punish school districts that have too many students opt out of standardized tests. Griffo says that appears to be contradictory at a time when the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) suggested that the federal government was finally returning more control to states and local school districts over their education policies.

The opt-out movement is a parent-driven effort that supports the right of a parent or person in parental relationship to exempt their child from taking standardized tests. Supporters believe the tests negatively impact students, teachers and education in general, and encourage parents to refuse grades 3-8 Common Core math and English Language Arts tests “to send a message that we are opposed to the one-size-fit-all reform agenda.”

The movement - both locally and statewide - has gained momentum over the past two years, with an average of 20 percent of students sitting out the controversial tests.

There is no specific “opt-out” option in New York state education law, but parents and guardians can refuse the Common Core testing of their children with a code of “999”. To do so, they must contact their child’s principal, teachers and guidance counselor by written letter - email or hard copy - in advance, and request that their child not participate in the state tests. The procedure is clearly outlined on Page 63 in the state Education Department’s Student Information Repository System (SIRS) manual. It must be noted that a “refusal” is not the same as “absent”. An absent child will need to take a makeup test; when the test is refused, the child goes to school and should be given other educational alternatives during the testing.

Griffo, R-Rome, supports this parental choice and has co-sponsored bipartisan legislation - the Common Core Parental Refusal Act, S4161A - that would further empower them to opt out their children by requiring school districts to notify parents of this right. The bill hasn’t made it out of committee.

In his letter to the U.S. Education Secretary, Griffo said school districts should not be subjected to punishments by the federal government if parents choose to exercise this right. He said the federal government should honor the spirit of the federal ESSA law that was enacted on behalf of our children, parents, teachers and other education stakeholders, and allow local communities to determine what’s best for their students.

He’s absolutely right. Write King and tell him so.

Make your views known on the proposed federal regulation that would require states to punish school districts that have too many students opt out of standardized tests.

All comments must be received by the deadline of Monday, Aug. 1.




The New York Post on the need for Democrats to apologize to Mitt Romney for ridiculing the 2012 Republican presidential candidate’s assertion that Russia was America’s “No. 1 geopolitical foe.”

July 26

Democrats are probably right to blame Russia for the hack of Democratic National Committee e-mails, and to warn of the threat posed by Moscow’s meddling in U.S. politics. But there’s still something almost comically entertaining to their screams.

Just four years ago, these same Democrats were holding their sides laughing as they ridiculed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s assertion that Russia was “our No. 1 geopolitical foe.”

Laughing specifically at the notion that Vladimir Putin posed any kind of a threat at all.

“The 1980s are calling to ask for their foreign policy back,” jibed President Obama. “The Cold war’s been over for 20 years.”

Vice President Joe Biden said it most likely showed Romney belonged to “a small group of Cold War holdovers.”

Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton - who famously presented a “reset” button to Putin’s minions - sorrowfully termed Romney’s talk “somewhat dated.”

John Kerry - just months from succeeding Clinton at State - suggested Romney “talks like he’s only seen Russia by watching ‘Rocky IV.’?”

Who’s laughing now?

Romney, recall, was reacting to Obama’s having been overheard asking then-President Dmitry Medvedev to tell Putin he’d have “more flexibility” on U.S.-Russian issues once he was safely re-elected.

The GOP candidate called that “very, very troubling.” And he was right.

It’s a lesson that Donald Trump doesn’t seem to get, sad to say. But it’s still badly telling that the only thing that seems to have Clinton and her fellow Democrats focused on the Russian threat is an attack on them.




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